Thursday, 21 September 2017

The Radford Effect

Radford  0  Belper United  0

East Midlands Counties League

I’ve only ever been to Radford’s ground twice in fourteen years, and for someone who watches around 120 games a season, that’s pretty dismal.

To put that into perspective, it’s around 1700 games I’ve seen in that period, and one of the visits I made was simply because I’d never been before. So, I’ve made the conscious decision to make a revisit just once, and I remember it well, it was between Christmas and New Year, and nothing else was on!

The Radford Road End
Radford’s Selhurst Street Ground takes me around half an hour to get to, so why have I not been more often?

I only started to ask myself that question when I’d been at the ground for half an hour or so on Tuesday evening, and it was prompted by the fact that the people that run the club are amongst the friendliest you will ever meet. Always a smile, always a word or two, and nothing is too much trouble for them.

The ground is tidy, they have a bar, they have a club shop, they have pretty much everything you could want, and it’s Step 6 football. In fact, the excellent playing surface is one that is renowned locally as a very good port in a storm due to its drainage qualities and the fact that it doesn’t suffer the freezing conditions like other grounds in the vicinity.

Terrace & Tea Bar
I really did begin to wonder just why I’d swerved it so often, and I couldn’t come up with a particularly justifiable reason, other than I’d been missing out and I needed to do something about it.

Radford play in the Hyson Green area of West Nottingham. It’s an area that for decades has been the home to the Black community in the City, and for a period, unfortunately, it gained something of a reputation as a ‘no go’ area as Nottingham became blighted with gangland gun culture and the inevitable tragedy that goes with it. That said, on the very few occasions I’ve been to Hyson Green I’ve never found it anything other than vibrant or welcoming, very much like the football club situated in the middle of it.

Radford were playing Belper United, a club I have some attachment to being from the town, and over the years since they won promotion to the Central Midlands League and then the East Midlands Counties League, I’ve followed them from a distance and got to a handful of games each season. The fact it was Belper United was one of the reasons I chose to go to Radford to be fair.

Executive Boxes......
Radford as a club were known as Radford Olympic in the eighties when they plied their trade in the Central Midlands League, before dropping the Olympic in 1987. They remained in the CML until 2008 when they were invited to join the newly formed EMCL, where they have remained ever since. That said though, a couple of years they won promotion very briefly after finishing runners-up to St Andrews who had been declined the move up, but, on appeal the Leicestershire based side had the decision overturned and Radford had to remain where they were. So near yet so far!

The ground at Selhurst Street is tucked just off the main Radford Road and is hemmed in by the urban nature of the area. They have little room for growth, but have made a very good job with what they have.

Covered standing areas adorn both sides of the pitch while a small seated stand is located behind the Radford Road goal. The clubhouse and dressing rooms are adjacent to this, as is the turnstile block that is accessed from a small car park that soon gets packed. Spectators are better off parking in the shoppers car park next to the ground, but it is poorly lit and various signs warn of the importance of not leaving anything on display inside your vehicle.

Pristine Pitch
As I said earlier, from the moment you arrive, they are a great crowd. Little things like bringing your programme into the bar because they hadn’t arrived when you turned up. Opening up the club shop specially despite the lack of staff available, and then leaving you to browse at your leisure. It’s these little things that create the great impression of a football club, and at Radford they do just that.

As for the game, I’ll keep it simple. United hit the post twice in the first minute, but gradually Radford worked their way back into the game, and in the second period it was the hosts that dominated proceedings.

However, United seemed quite happy to go home with a point, Radford didn’t have the cutting edge to make the breakthrough. The goalless scoreline was almost inevitable.

It wasn’t a game that will live long in the memory, but Radford are a club that will. And that's why I'm going to make a real effort to become a more regular visitor.

'The Radford Effect' - the principle of not knowing what you are missing out on, and no logical explanation why!

The Business End

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Upwardly Mobile

Basford United  2  Cleethorpes Town  2

Northern Premier League – First Division South

In terms of stand-out fixtures for the coming midweek, this one shone like a beacon.
Cleethorpes Town had played seven and won seven whereas Basford United had played seven won six and drawn one.

They sat first and second in the league, it promised much, but would it deliver?

Firstly though, the history of these two clubs is pretty staggering.

Basford United were an ailing Nottinghamshire Senior League side until 2011 when they made the move into the Central Midlands League, where they won the Southern Division at the first attempt.

The following season they joined the East Midlands Counties League and won that with a record 95 points. This lead to promotion to the Northern Counties East League Premier Division, where they finished fifth, but they were moved sideways for the following season to the Midland Football League that they in turn won.

The move was then made to the Northern Premier League First Division South, an incredible sixth different league in six seasons, which has to be some sort of record.

So how has this happened?

Basford Attack
Chris Munroe, the man behind the Inspirepac company in Chesterfield took over the club and has gone on the create something that is indeed very special. The ground has been developed beyond all recognition from the time I first went in the Notts Senior League, with a 4G pitch, stands on three sides, a new clubhouse and dressing rooms, plus classrooms for the thriving academy that is already reaping rewards.

Chris has also been patient, now in their third season at this level, he has not demanded further progress, rather a period of consolidation after their rapid rise, but you do sense that this season under the stewardship of Martin Carruthers, promotion will be the target.

I guess the only downside to Basford’s remarkable rise has been the fact that the locals have not got behind it as you would have hoped. Crowds are ok, but not fantastic, which is a real shame as the facilities are good, car parking is plentiful and a tram stop sits nearby. You can’t criticise the promotion or marketing of the club, they just seem to be dealing with apathy on the West side of Nottingham City Centre.

Cleethorpes Town is another special tale. The old LSS Lucarlys side was re-named in 2008 and in their first season under the new guise, they had a pretty average mid-table finish in the Humber Premier League. The future didn’t look so special the following year when they resigned from the league mid-season, but they re-appeared again in the Lincolnshire League at the start of the 2010-11 season. A third placed finish, followed by a Championship saw them take promotion to the Northern Counties East League.

Stand / Dressing Room / Clubhouse / Academy
By now the club had moved from their traditional base at Linden Homes Club and were sharing the Bradley Community Stadium with Grimsby Borough. The first season saw a fourth placed finish but the following season saw another Championship, and with it promotion to Step 5.

Playing great attacking football under Marcus Newell, they finished 4th, 3rd and then finally the Championship was won last season and a promotion to the Northern Premier League. But, on top of that they also reached Wembley in the FA Vase Final, only to lose to a rampant South Shields outfit.

The one thing Cleethorpes have which Basford would surely like is great support. The crowds do turn up at the out of town stadium in Bradley, and with plans to move back to a redeveloped Linden Homes Club, you would think the spiritual home would engender more support?

The kick off at a wet Greenwich Avenue was delayed by five minutes due to the late arrival of Cleethorpes, but after a tight opening it was Basford who took the lead via a Lewis Carr header in the 15th minute.

Two minutes later the scores were level when a deep cross found an unmarked Matty Coleman just six yards out and he steered the ball beyond Saul Deeney. Basford then missed some great opportunities to regain the lead but a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping kept the scores level.

Cleethorpes took the lead early in the second period when a foul by Ash Grayson lead to a penalty, which Peter Winn duly despatched.

It was all Basford after that and they got the deserved equaliser when Luke Mascall’s foul on Corey Grantham saw a second yellow, a red and also a penalty. Ben Hutchinson stepped up to score and decided to celebrate in front of both sets of fans behind the goal. This led to a confrontation and some ‘handbags’ between the fans which then meant a thin yellow line of stewards had to be deployed to keep them apart.

The Thin Yellow Line 
Basford continued to pour forward but couldn’t find the winning goal, and they too had a nervous moment very late in time added on when Carr’s second yellow also lead to a red card, but from the resultant free kick the shot from distance was wide of the target.

I suspect on reflection, Cleethorpes will probably be the happier of the two sides, they were on the back foot for large parts of the game, and after a less than ideal start due to their late arrival, they probably would have taken a point if offered it. The game was a real credit to the Northern Premier League though, always engaging and with it intriuging.

Basford will be cheered by the fact 200 spectators turned up to watch it, and it’s the least they deserve given the efforts Munroe, Carruthers and all of those behind the scenes have put in to make the club the success it is today.

If I was a betting man, both of these sides will be gracing the Premier Division next season, and I don’t think anyone will begrudge either club that achievement.

Gimme Shelter

Sunday, 17 September 2017

A Question Of Sporting

GNP Sports  2  Coventrians  1

Midland Football League – Division Three

I was recently looking back at some of Belper Town’s results in FA competitions via the brilliant Football Club History Database website, and one fixture jumped out at me.

It was the 1979-80 season and it was a Preliminary Round tie away at Coventry Sporting, the Nailers lost the game 1-0, and at the time Sporting were a West Midlands League side.

I did a bit more digging around the history of Coventry Sporting, and found out that they once hit the headlines, 1975-76 to be precise, when they reached the First Round of the F.A. Cup, and went on to beat Tranmere Rovers 2-0 in a game played at Coventry City’s then Highfield Road. It was a hugely significant result given the gulf in leagues.

The Second Round also produced a home tie, which was again shifted but City’s ground, only this time Peterborough United were to have too much for Sporting, coming out 4-0 winners.

Sporting appeared on the map in 1974, when Coventry Amateurs changed their name and the club took up a place in the West Midlands League. Promotion was gained in 1983 to the Southern League, where they remained until the end of the 1988-89 season, and then they disappeared from the map completely.

I’ve tried to research the club, but very little seems to be out there. I can’t find out what happened to them, and other than an address of the ground, I can’t seem to find any pictures as to what it may have looked like. I did ask my Dad who was at the game in 1979, and his memory was that it lashed it down for the entire game, and he spent it sat in a small wooden stand!

Out Of The Blue
The address of the ground I did find, it was Kirby Corner Road, so I did what everyone would do, I checked Google Maps, and it’s now the site of the University Sports Complex. I did the historical thing via Google Earth, but it leaps from 1999 back to 1945, therefore it doesn’t help.

The area around Kirby Corner Road I know fairly well though. Going back a few seasons now I did watch the re-formed Coventry Amateurs play a game on Westwood Heath Road, at the David Sinclair Sports Ground, while almost opposite is the Westwood Heath Sports Ground that I saw Coventry Spartans play at.

At the start of the season I noticed a new team had been admitted to the Midland Football League, and the ground address was the Coventry Athletics Track, on Kirby Corner Road. The team was GNP Sports.
So, that begged a question. If I was to watch a game at GNP Sports, would I technically be on the old footprint of the Coventry Sporting ground?

Blue Moon
The journey was a simple one, until I got to Kirby Corner Road, both ends of it that is, as the road was closed! After a brief detour around the University complex, I found my way to the Varsity pub, where I was reliably informed I could leave my car and walk to the Athletics Track.

Once arriving at the ground a mere ten minutes before kick off, it became apparent that what I should have done is ignored the road closures, driven down anyway, and parked in the car park like everyone else, local knowledge and all that!

Coventry United had played at 12 noon today, so that meant a good number of the travelling community had decided to do a double and pick up this game afterwards, so the crowd was probably larger than normal for the Coventry derby,

Mr Blue Sky
GNP were top with a 100% record, Coventrians sat in mid-table. The first half wasn’t particularly thrilling, but the balance of power moved very much in the way of the hosts when the visitors had a player sent off for kicking out.

GNP got a grip of the game and scored twice before a hail storm hit us. From the limited shelter of the trees, we saw Coventrians come back into the game and pull a goal back late on. This set up an interesting finish but the boys from GNP hung on to make it five wins from five.

Blue Eyes
The ground is pretty much what you would expect. A slightly unusual blue athletics track surrounded the pitch, otherwise you were standing at pitch side. The facilities were at one end where vending machines provided refreshment. Otherwise, not an awful lot else to say about it. The officials were friendly though, and I have to praise the way they use social media, just a tweet on the morning of the game to say something like ‘Matchday – Game On’ is hugely helpful and saves an awful lot of time ringing around checking fixtures. GNP are a progressive and well run club, but praise too for Coventrians. A couple of years ago now I took a trip to their ground via the train and bus, and got some great help from Secretary Jane Connolly, who today was taking photographs from the dugout. 

My question remains unanswered though, was I on the site of the former Coventry Sporting ground?  Maybe someone can shed some light on it and even point me in the direction where I can find out a bit more about them.

Until then, curiosity will continue to get the better of me…

Green Door

Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Resurrection

South Normanton Athletic  0  Loughborough University  1

Midland Football League – Premier Division

The history of South Normanton Athletic Football Club is a short, yet eventful story.

They joined the Central Midlands League in 1990 and worked their way through the divisions until 2003 when they were eventually promoted to the Northern Counties East League.

Upon my return from University in 1994, I started to make the odd trip down to Lees Lane to watch ‘The Shiners’, and part of that was due to the clubs excellent media coverage courtesy of then press officer Kev Miles.

Kev worked at the local newspaper as sports editor and his ‘influence’ meant Athletic were always well represented, but not only that, he took immense pride in producing the clubs matchday programme which was an excellent piece of work. The impression you always got was that they were a well run and progressive club, and on top of that they did used to get a fair few watching them.

They spent four seasons in the First Division of the NCE before winning promotion to the Premier Division, and that level of football was quite an achievement for a club that had only been playing in senior football for just over fifteen years.

It went wrong though.

After just one season at Step 5, the club resigned from the league, a combination of factors meant the dream was over, or was it?

The Business End At Lees Lane
A season was spent in abeyance until a new committee came along and re-started the club back in the Central Midlands League. They remained there for five seasons, pretty successfully, and as a result they won promotion to the East Midlands Counties League in 2014. For three successive seasons they improved their league positon, to a point where they finished runners up last year to West Bridgford.

The Nottinghamshire side initially took up their place in the Premier Division of the Midland League, but an internal implosion down by Trent saw them decline promotion, thus opening the door for South Normanton to return to Step 5, nine years after their last season at this level.

Throughout the last few years I have tried to make a couple of visits a season to the club, and one thing that always impressed me, and others for that matter, was the importance they placed upon improving their facilities and indeed the customer experience.

Lees Lane is a very tidy football ground. A large car park leads to the turnstiles which nestle in the corner of the ground, usually Chairman Phil Bailey can be spied collecting the admission. Up to the left is the tea bar and the clubhouse, while straight in front of you is the seated stand that’s positioned behind the goal. Built into the stand is the Club Shop.

There is a smaller stand placed at an angle by the far corner flag, and then another area of cover runs two thirds of the length of the touchline. The rest of the ground is open, and behind the North goal you have views right across the valley towards Tibshelf.

Normanton have had a poor start to the season but a couple of recent good results have seen them start to climb the table, visitors Loughborough University sat bottom of the table with no wins, but, I suspect some of that will be due to the fact that a number of players didn’t arrive at the University until September so they’d been playing a weakened team?

A sparse crowd turned up on a chilly night, Lees Lane is quite exposed so even on the nicest of days it can be coat weather! When I say sparse, I would estimate around 75 spectators, and that’s a shame for those who run the club because they deserve better than that, crowds when they were playing at a significantly lower level in the nineties were almost double that. In fact, as myself and Mark from Alfreton observed, of the crowd in attendance, a number were neutrals just looking for a game.

It was a very open game and Loughborough belied the fact that they were yet to win a game. They missed a first half penalty, but made amends early in the second half when they took the lead from a scrambled effort.

Wide Expanses
Normanton gaffer Tommy Leighton did his best to rally the troops but they simply couldn’t find an equaliser, despite creating numerous opportunities to have taken something from the game. A draw would probably have been a fair result, but it was not to be.

I really hope that Normanton not only survive in this league, but thrive, but they need the backing of the local community to do that. The locals of South Normanton have a great little football club within their midst, they just need to get behind it.

Resurrecting a football club is hard enough to do just the once, to have to do it all again a second time is nigh on impossible, so please don't let that happen to South Normanton Athletic, those that have stood by the club through thick and thin deserve more than that.

South Normanton By Night

Thursday, 14 September 2017

A Mutual Respect

Alfreton Town  1  Brackley Town  1

National League North

It was during Miss Uppadine’s Maths lessons that the stick was at its most merciless.

Going to school in Alfreton was an interesting experience, but that experience took on another aspect when it came to the attention of a group of Alfreton Town supporters that they had a Belper Town fan sat in the same classroom.

Curiosity initially that this ‘alien’ had landed on their territory, lead to some banter, but then as we got to know each other a little bit better, the banter became more intense, to the point where, especially during the build up to games between each other, it was never ending. Of course, I was on my own and in a no win situation, I got it from all angles. I was eleven years old, a simple kid from a quiet village and the ‘townies’ had sniffed blood!

In all fairness though, after Belper won the Northern Counties East League in 1984-85, a season during which the Nailers beat Alfreton 2-0 very late in the campaign to virtually seal the championship, we didn’t have much to shout about, apart from a very famous 5-0 victory during the year Alfreton won the title themselves and with it promotion to the Northern Premier League.

I didn’t really know the Alfreton contingent in our Championship year, but I certainly knew them thereafter, and barring the 5-0, it was pretty much one way traffic. Don’t get me wrong, when we weren’t squabbling about the rivalry, we got on brilliantly because deep down we were mates, but I have to say when they did get promoted I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to put up with another two games against them.

"You Walk Into The Tin End....."
I was wrong, I couldn’t get away from it. We then had a habit of meeting in the Derbyshire Senior Cup, where clearly we would get beaten pretty heavily, and as usual, my name would be chanted from the terraces, and it was far from complimentary. Being honest, I used to dread the games, not the game itself, that was an inevitable defeat, it was the grief I was going to cop for.

Something changed though, you could argue that we grew up, but those who know us all today would argue that has never really happened. What we did do was get a little bit older, a couple of us went into Sixth Form, a couple left school, and we drifted a little bit. I went away to University, but when I returned, I was stuck with a bit of a dilemma.

I’d had a Derby County season ticket in the couple of years prior to Uni, but chose not to persist with it when I got back. I watched Belper a bit, but I also used to go to Alfreton, mainly to catch up with the lads who I’d kept in touch with. Alfreton were a fine side at the time, vying for promotion, and to be fair I went through a spell of watching them home and away, but the family ties with Belper coupled with the fact we were on a great FA Vase run to the semi-finals, ultimately saw me migrate home.

The Tom McCroy Stand
That said, watching the fantastic Alfreton side, which contained great players like John McFadzean, Matt Walsh, Steve Johnson, Phil Stafford and Paul Eshelby, along with the superb atmosphere that the fans created, stuck with me. I was to go back whenever the opportunity allowed me.

Since those days back in the mid-nineties, I get along to the Impact Arena a few times a season, and during the last twenty years or so, I’ve seen some incredible things happen at Alfreton Town.

I saw Belper ultimately have a spell where they were the dominant side of the two, as Alfreton slipped down the pyramid and back into the Northern Counties East League, but then along came a man called Wayne Bradley.

The rest is history, Chris Wilder who is now managing Sheffield United took them to the treble, and then a second promotion was gained into the top flight of the Northern Premier League. During that second promotion season they dicked us, and we were also a fancied side at the time, 5-1 at home, but we did manage to win the return somehow! I did cop for a little bit of flack after the 5-1 game as you would expect!

Billiard Table Playing Surface
Restructuring lead to Alfreton becoming founder members of the Conference North, and I remember fondly being invited to spend the day with the Reds fans on the afternoon they won the league to seal a historic promotion to the Conference National. It felt special to just witness that moment.

Alfreton are also an accomplished Cup side, myself and my Dad travelled with the massed away fans to watch them lose an FA Cup replay unluckily at then League Two outfit Macclesfield Town, while for my fortieth birthday, the lads (Mark, Lee and Ste) bought myself and my Dad tickets for the FA Cup tie with Leyton Orient, we had a superb afternoon with them.

But what has also happened over the years is that both sets of fans have developed a fondness for each other. When Alfreton don’t have a game, a few of their fans come to watch us, and quite often when Belper don’t have a game, it’s not just myself that travels up the A38 to watch the Reds.

The Modern Impact Arena - Wayne's Legacy 
We’re well into our forties now, we’ve matured with age, we love our football and we like a pint, but what we have that is most important of all is a mutual respect for each other as mates, football fans and lovers of the non-league game. It didn’t matter that we beat them in a Derbyshire Senior Cup Final a few years back, and they went on to beat us on penalties in another final two years ago. In fact when we met last season at Belper and they won 4-0 in the Cup, we spent the entire game stood together, I just wouldn’t have dare do that back in the Eighties!

Tonight I went along for the first time this season, really looking forward to seeing a revitalised Reds side under John McDermott taking on one of the early pace setters and fancied sides in the shape of Brackley Town. I wasn’t disappointed, it was a fantastic game on what must be the best pitch anywhere around for miles. Brackley took the lead but a deft touch by Craig Westcarr onto an in swinging free kick saw Alfreton equalise.

Brackley played some superb football in the second half but Alfreton defended like warriors and dug deep to earn a deserved point.  The Reds have a lot to feel optimistic about this season, new investment, backed with the superb vocal support they receive home and away, could lead to a possible Play Off push, but this is such a strong league, far tougher than the one they won in 2012.

The heavy rain didn’t put a dampener on proceedings, and most importantly it was a chance to catch up with the lads, and have some great banter and share some memories. I have stolen a saying that I once heard Johnny Vaughan use on 5Live, it’s “Never Let The Football Ruin The Football”, that never happens when I go to Alfreton.

I could go on and talk about the time we came back from Hyde and wrapped a car door round a lamp post, I could talk about our first teenage holiday in Ingoldmells, I could talk about trips to Ireland together and missed flights, I could talk about birthdays, weddings, college parties, fancy dress costumes, run ins with the law on the way back from Congleton, beer festivals, and any number of scrapes we got into along the way. 

But, it was over thirty years ago now that we used to sit in Miss Uppadine’s Maths lessons, never let anyone tell you that school’s a waste of time, all that pain has been worth it in the long run.

"The Often...."

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Tales From A Riverbank

Southwell City Development  2  Bridgford United  3

Nottinghamshire Senior League – Division Two

Google Maps is a truly wonderful thing, unless of course you are the chap who owns the A-Z Map company, in which case it’s probably ruined your life!

In all seriousness, it does come in incredibly handy, not just in terms of a directional tool, but also as a reference point to find out pretty much all you need to know about a specific destination.

Take today, I knew Southwell City Football Club had a ground just outside of the City (still can’t get my head round calling it that), but what I didn’t know until I had a closer peek that it was incredibly close to the village of Fiskerton and the banks of the River Trent.

So, at 10am I’m thinking about what pubs in Southwell I could grace with my presence pre-match, but by 11am my plans had changed completely, I was off to the river!

An hour before kick off I was sat outside the Bromley Arms in the bright sunshine staring at the sereneness of the Trent, two barges were moored just in front of the pub, I had a pint of the finest in my hand, and all in the World was looking good. Thank you Google, now what can you tell me about South Normanton that could potentially change my life next Wednesday night?

The Sun Threatens....
The bright sunshine very quickly disappeared, almost at the moment I chose to leave my car a mere five minutes before kick off at the Brinkley home of the junior sides of the Minstermen. The game was being played on the furthest away of three pitches that adorn the complex, and by the time I’d found some strategically placed trees on the very far side, it was a bit too late to stay dry, the damage had been done.

Southwell City Development, as you would expect, are a very young team, whereas today’s opponents Bridgford United were somewhat more experienced. Both sides are new to the Notts Senior League this season, and have been placed in the bottom division, and that isn’t always the case when new sides join the league, take Beeston Rylands for example who started in the middle division of the three.

The Loneliness Of The Linesman
Both sides had got solid starts to the season under their belts, and it was the visitors who took the lead mid-way through the first half, this after I thought Southwell had looked slightly the better team. A second goal arrived from a super free kick from all of 25 yards, and at that stage you felt there was only going to be one winner.

Southwell pulled a goal back after half time but Bridgford came back and made it 3-1, however, in the 88th minute Southwell scored again to set up a tense finish, although in fairness Bridgford I felt, had the game under control.

I guess for Southwell’s players, this season could be a real learning experience, a young set of lads playing in a man’s league. I suspect not every side will be as sporting and as fair as Bridgford United were, who I thought were a really well disciplined and honest outfit. Interestingly enough as well, the game was refereed by Jevon Swinscoe, who is also a fellow Kempster Forum member, he did a good job, although it wasn't the most challenging of games to deal with. 

Summer's Back!
Not much to report at the ground in terms of furniture to be honest, a changing room block sits in the corner of the large car park, and if you are on the farthest pitch, it’s a decent walk, so thankfully both sides chose not to return to the dressing rooms at half time.

But that didn’t matter to me, I’d found my oasis of calm a mile or so down the road, it served me well, and all thanks to a little bit of pre-match research. Next week I’m off to Coventry and I’m not sure that it’s got a river running through it, it might have a canal, but if I look closely enough I’ll find a suitable watering hole in the proximity of GNP Sports FC's home at the University. Either that or a Student Union bar, which reminds me of a time I was at another Notts Senior League game at Trent University, but that’s a story for another day……….. 
In-Direct Free Kick

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Eating Apples Through A Tennis Racket

Swinton Athletic Reserves  3  Wombwell Main Development  4

Sheffield County Senior League – Division Two

As the nights begin to draw in, the early evening kick off’s disappear from the fixture lists, and tonight was to be the last time until early April that we were to spend an evening wondering if there will be just enough light left to complete the game.

Thankfully in the very reliable Sheffield County Senior League, they endeavour to kick off at 6pm to avoid such issues, but often that doesn’t happen, for example a couple of years ago we went to watch Silkstone play AFC Dronfield and due to traffic issue the game kicked off nearer half past and as a result it was pretty dark by the time we finished. Not only that it completely spannered the plans of our pal Ken who was hoping to make another game at Penistone Church straight afterwards!

Steve and I chose to meet in a pub on the edges of Swinton, a boozer he had not frequented since he was a ‘nip’ as he likes to call it, during the time when he was living in nearby Rawmarsh. Clearly the visit to Swinton was bringing back happy memories for Steve and subsequently we spent the evening talking about the various scrapes he got into in the areas of Mexborough, Parkgate, Denaby, Dalton and indeed Goldthorpe. 

That then in an inadvertent way lead on to a discussion about the Bash Street Kids and an incident at a Gentleman’s Evening, but more on than later.

When Banksie Came To Swinton
When we finally found the Park Road base of Swinton Athletic I was pleasantly surprised. I think I was more surprised in the sense that the first team of Swinton don’t play at their home ground, they play at the old Hampden Road ground of Mexborough Town at Step 7, and I had put that all down to ground grading and the like. So I suppose in my mind I’d got Park Road down as a field, and not much else.

I was wrong, banked on two sides giving great views of not only the game but also of the Dearne Valley, the pitch was fully railed. On top of the bank was a changing room building that had been tastefully decorated with murals, including one signifying the home of the football club. Next door was a pub / restaurant that also doubled up as the clubhouse. So, why don’t Swinton’s first team play here, I really don’t know the answer to that question? But perhaps they should?

The game was a cracker, Wombwell took the lead almost straight from the kick off via a penalty, but by half time the hosts had turned the scoreline around and were leading 2-1. It then went to 2-2, 2-3, 2-4, and finally 3-4 with a young Wombwell side hanging on for a victory. It had been a great advert for County Senior League football, and, it kicked off bang on six o’clock.

A Healthy Turn Out
I was also pleasantly surprised by the size of the crowd, because I’d expected a game between a reserve side and a development side to at best attract us two, a man, and possibly his dog if he had one. I was very wrong, over 50 turned up to watch it, so imagine how many might turn out if the first team used the ground? I can think of some Step 5 clubs that would have been happy with that turn out, and this was Step 9!

As we were chatting during the second half, the conversation moved towards Rotherham nightclubs, I happened to mention one that I was familiar with, and this set Steve off..

Apparently, during his younger days he was invited along with his mates to a Gentleman’s Evening. Now to put this into context we are talking late Seventies, back then the aforementioned function was not like it is today. Today it would be potentially black tie, you would have a compere, a comedian (who would be a bit blue), a game of stand up bingo, or is it sit down? I can’t remember, anyway, you might have a charity auction and the highlight of the night would be the quest speaker who would typically be an ex-footballer talking about the good old days of Bestie, Mooro, Bobby, Chopper, Norman, Uncle Tom Cobley, the lot. I’ve been to a few of these, it’s the same stories, but different names. And of course, despite the fact it’s titled a Gentleman’s Evening, you do get women in attendance.

In the Seventies you also had women in attendance, but these were not guests, these were the entertainment. Anyway, said dodgy comedian had done his turn and on came the ‘entertainment’ and indeed according to Steve they were very good. But just prior to them finishing their exotic (I think that’s the word) performance, a bucket collection was made to pay the girls a little bit extra for a grand finale.

A male volunteer was asked for, and that was when Steve said the room almost erupted as one, the chant of “Plug, Plug, Plug….” rose like a crescendo around Rotherham’s finest emporium, and up to the stage looking somewhat nervous was a young gentleman who had earned the said nickname due to the fact he bore an uncanny resemblance to the Bash Street Kids character from the Beano, and could almost certainly eat an apple through a tennis racket!

Plug stuck to his guns and gave the crowd a show, back at work he would have earned legendary status, and his Mother would have been very proud I’m sure!

The Dearne Valley Skyline
And to think, in the late Seventies my Grandma used to bring me home the Beano from her shopping trips to Belper on a Thursday afternoon, and then on a Thursday night my Mum would always read three stories from the comic before I went to sleep. Typically they would be Dennis The Menace, Mini The Minx, and of course saving the best until last, the Bash Street Kids.

I’m glad our kids are beyond the Beano stage now, I could never read about Cuthbert Cringeworthy, Herbert, Spotty and indeed Plug again without thinking about that stage in Rotherham. Having said that, I might try and eat an apple through a tennis racket, could be one for a Saturday night, healthier than a kebab at I guess?